The Darksiders franchise has faced a rough road over the past few years. With taking a bit of a forced hiatus, since the original developer filed for bankruptcy, to ending up in IP limbo before finding a home with THQ Nordic. Since their acquisition, THQ Nordic has rejuvenated a multitude of IPs, most with refreshing success. Thankfully, Darksiders 3 can happily take its spot among those successful restorations.
While Darksiders 3 doesn’t really take the story of the 4 horsemen in any interesting, new directions, the game’s mechanics are what really make this newest installment stand out against its brethren. That doesn’t mean it isn’t void of shortcomings or bugs, but the new take on some of the game’s long-standing foundations is enough to make this a, mostly, enjoyable return to the post-apocalyptic world of Darksiders.
Darksiders 3 isn’t going to be an extremely accessible jumping on point for newcomers. The game’s sometimes brutal learning curves and unforgiving enemies make it difficult to enjoy at times, teetering on a thin line between fair and downright cruel. That being said, Darksiders 3 rewards players that take the time to breathe, analyze enemy patterns, and exploit openings/weaknesses. On top of that, the story feels just as convoluted as it’s prior installments. Following the story isn’t difficult, it’s more so how things play out that leave you feeling like there could have been more to it. It doesn’t help that most of Fury’s dialogue can span from trying too hard to downright cringe-worthy.
This third entry in the series follows Fury and her journey to harvest the souls of the 7 Deadly Sins, referred to in the game as “The 7 Deadly“. Apparently adding “Sins” to the end of that name just makes it too much of a mouthful. This storyline runs parallel to that of War’s from the first game, with the opening cutscene having Fury find War shackled and reprimanded for his crimes in front of the Charred Council. With the seal, allegedly, broken by War, Fury must bring in the escaped Sins before it’s too late. The first time the sins got out it took the strength of all 4 horsemen to bring them in, so having the responsibility fall on Fury alone is a nice way to raise the stakes and send her on her way. Like the other two entries, we know there is a bigger game at play here, sadly everything mostly remains hidden in the background for now.
Instantly, there is a sense of “this is different” once you’re dropped into the world of Darksiders 3. The opening area felt VERY reminiscent of the Cemetery of Ash from Dark Souls 3, and those that have played any souls-like game will find themselves drawing similar comparisons as well. Darksiders 3 is still an action RPG that pulls heavily from games like the Legend of Zelda, however, this new entry isn’t afraid to show it’s Souls inspirations either. It is very clear the surge of the Souls-like sub-genre has made quite an impact here and elements from those titles can be found throughout Darksiders 3’s overworld. For it isn’t just the analyze-dodge-exploit loop in combat that makes this title feel like a souls-like. The over-world constantly folds in on itself, and what once felt like a sprawling web of intertwining tunnels and caves slowly unfolds as a, mostly, thought out inter-connected labyrinth.
That being said, the world building here isn’t nearly as tight as what you would find in a Miyazaki game. Certain checkpoints feel sporadically placed, with a few involving brutal treks through highly infested areas. Generally, these gaps don’t feel too unfair, thanks to a mechanic that lets you continuously regain a health potion here and there, but some left me slowly navigating every corner, desperately hoping my next turn would yield the sight of that beautiful save point I was so anxiously waiting for.
It’s these moments that make Darksiders 3 feel, not unfair, but just perplexing. There were times where I would come across two save points, Vulgrim portals, within a few minutes of each other, making progress through an area feel swift and meaningful. Then there were other times where death meant meticulously working my way through the same 10-15 minute section more times than I care to admit. I understand playing a game where your hard work pays off, but these moments left me feeling more frustrated than like I had accomplished some great feat.
Collectibles are waiting for those that enjoy going off the beaten path as well. This is a much more simplified version than you would find in most other games, but one that felt more grounded in my opinion. When you find a hidden item it will be a crush-able item which rewards you with “souls” that let you purchase items from Vulgrim or level up Fury. If it isn’t these crush-ables, then it’s upgraded materials for your weapons. What was nice was that the materials needed to upgrade Fury’s arsenal have no effect on being able to purchase items to level her up. Most times I found myself stockpiling both and then making a quick trip the Maker before having Vulgrim hand over some ability points for Fury. This makes each item you find feel important and have a weight to it. With how hard enemies can be, being as strong as possible is a necessity in this game, so it is more than worth your time to find each and every one of these items.
On top of those, the only other collectible you can hunt down are humans. Humans in this series are thought of more like pests than anything else. In Darksiders 3, Fury grudgingly accepts to help the human cause and for doing so eventually gets an item that makes the collecting of humans just as vital as looking around every corner for loot. When Fury rescues enough humans she is given a pendant/ crest that boosts her attack and abilities. By feeding off of the humans she rescued, this pendant channels their energy to Fury and boosts her power. Put simply, the more humans you save the stronger Fury becomes.
Physically leveling Fury up is a lot more dumbed down than leveling a character in Dark Souls, Bloodborne, and the like. When she levels up she gets an attribute point that can be put into one of three areas, health, Attack, or Arcane. It’s literally as simple as that. Health, you guessed it, increases her hit points. Attack is the raw damage she does from basic attacks and Arcane is the elemental side of her attacks that generally damage enemies after a counter, or dodge, etc. As I previously stated, her weapons can be upgraded as well through the Makers, which levels up her weapon’s scaling and attack power. Her weapons can also be fitted with gems that augment things like health gained on kills, or wrath consumed from attacks. These gems can also be upgraded further increasing their potential and scaling.
Two minor things that probably will come down to personal opinion are Darksiders 3’s environments and the soundtrack. Both leave things to be desired, but both aren’t awful either. In regards to the music, it’s mostly a lackluster group of whimsical tracks that subtly play in the background. They’re most notable when involved in a cutscene but do little to add any major gravitas to what’s happening on screen. In regards to the environments, I will say this. Darksiders 3 has released in a year where graphical fidelity has seen leaps and bounds of progress in a very short period of time. While the textures and assets keep the stylized look of the series alive, it certainly won’t be the most beautiful game you’ve played this year. Looking at you Red Dead 2. If anything, Darksiders 3 just builds on what aesthetically set this series apart in the first place, which isn’t a bad thing. The game looks awesome for being what it is, but it’s naive to go into this expecting to be wowed by its environments like we were in other fall titles this year.
What truly defines this game though; what makes it so much fun to come back to is also the thing that will probably divide longtime fans of the series. The combat. The majority of this game will be spent shredding through countless demons and angels and everything in between. To Gunfire Games’ credit, the combat is simplistic in the sense that it’s easy enough to pick up, but its hidden depth will leave you finding new attack patterns and combos for hours to come.
On the surface, Fury has two primary buttons for attacks. One will control her whip, while the other is a stand-in for whichever hallow you have her equipped with. Switching between the two is as simple as it is in any other action RPG. The depth comes in when you begin experimenting with switching Hallows in the midst of combat along with button timing. You can absolutely spam either button and unleash hell on whatever lies in front of you. However, if you play around with when you time your button inputs, the attack combos change, adding layers of depth to an otherwise repetitive one to two button framework. The amount of variety hidden in this simple layout was pleasantly surprising and led to countless hours of experimentation throughout my time with the game.
Through weapon upgrades, physically leveling up Fury, and improving the gems you socket into her weapons, Fury slowly becomes a force to be reckoned with. It is here, however, a major difference comes into play when comparing Darksiders 3 to its predecessors. Her increase in power isn’t very noticeable, if at all regardless of how far you’ve made it in the game. Yes, returning to older areas means fighting your way through a significantly easier crowd, but this isn’t really a game where hours of grinding will yield any kind of noticeable result. Anything in this game will kill you in a couple hits, given the opportunity, and for some reason that never sat well with me. For the most part, I only allocated a few points to Fury’s health and chose to focus my attention on the other two skills in the game.
When you’re only getting about 30-40 hit points per level in health, but anything can tank your health bar in a couple hits, the increase in health never felt like a worthwhile attribute to focus on. Knowing that I would have to throw at least 10-15 levels worth of points into health to maybe survive one extra hit didn’t feel worth it to me. Instead, I chose to focus on making her hit as hard as I possibly could whenever I could. Yes, this made boss fights a bit more frustrating, but the pay off was more noticeable than dumping a ton of points into a health bar that MIGHT let me live through three hits instead of two.
Speaking of boss fights, these are some of Darksiders 3‘s greatest moments. The 7 Deadly offer a wide variety of encounters, with each one forcing you to utilize some move you’ve learned along the way as a means of taking them down. Like everything else that wants to kill you in this game, the 7 Deadly is no different, and require time and patience to learn their attacks. Once you do, the fight becomes a beautiful ballet of sorts, that usually involves trading between perfect dodges and counter-attacks. While the Souls-like elements are littered around you, this is still Darksiders. Being aggressive and keeping your wits about you while blades fly and clash across your screen has just become a more elevated affair. The pacing of battles is still very fast, and it’s here that Darksiders takes the Souls formula and bends it to its will. The combat structure is like a souls game, but the run in and unleash a few brutal, flashy attacks style of Darksiders is ever present.
In the end, Darksiders 3 is a fitting installment in the series. It sees the continuation of the Darksiders story by exploring Fury and the role she played in proving War’s innocence while giving longtime fans of the series a fresh take on how to survive the apocalypse. While some changes fall flat, the majority of this game is extremely enjoyable and lives up to what we have come to expect from a Darksiders title.
If nothing else, the fast-paced combat in Darksiders 3 will provide hours of entertainment, even when needing to repeat frustrating areas. Gunfire Games has found a solid blend of old and new, leaving us with another great Darksiders title, and of course, craving the next chapter in the story of the 4 horsemen.